Friday, August 26, 2011

Darned Non-English Indexers

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records Say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Darned Non-Native Indexers

I’ve written before about's use of Chinese indexers. In the early days of FamilySearch Indexing I commonly heard of FamilySearch volunteers “checking” their interpretation of indecipherable names against’s Chinese produced indexes. Perhaps learning to read 20,000+ Chinese characters in several different calligraphy styles leaves the Chinese workforce well qualified in figuring out a couple dozen poorly written Latin characters.

Ultimately, the more context you have, the better your ability to interpret what you’re reading. (See “Indexing Errors: Test, Check the Boxes.”)

…which is exactly why native speakers do a better job indexing unstructured text. Consider this example from Somehow I don’t think that on 27 April 1871 Miss Sophenia Bowan married “Holy Matrimany.”


This is also why an index without images is never a good idea. If you consult the image, you will find:


Yes. Records indexed by non-native-speakers say the darnedest things.


“Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002,” database and images, ( : accessed 24 June 2009), entry for Holy Matrimany and Miss Sophenia Bowan; citing Missouri Marriage Records; Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Missouri.


  1. "English speakers do a better job indexing unstructured text." I'm sure you meant "English speakers do a better job indexing unstructured text in English." English speakers do manage to produce totally wrong versions of Finnish names that have been totally correctly spelled. Or should I perhaps blame the Chinese?

  2. :-)

    I stand corrected!

    Thanks, Kaisa.

    -- The Insider

  3. Probably the most ridiculous error I found was in a Canadian census. The religion, C of E, was indexed as "Colf"!

  4. There is never a time when I inspect a census image in Ancestry that I don't correct at least one entry on the accompanying transcription. This is why I never bother with the index-only transcriptions on FamilySearch.
    Descendants of the person whose entry I have corrected get in touch and ask if I am related. LOL.

  5. So that's why my great-grandfather George Pleau is indexed as George Chan!


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